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Rated: 13+ · Book · Biographical · #2257228
Tales from real life
Well, if they're not true, they oughta be!
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September 15, 2023 at 2:07pm
September 15, 2023 at 2:07pm

I recently wrote a poem, Just Sayin' , about filler words that can grate on the ear. There are a lot of different forms and styles, but they mostly boil down to being unable or unwilling to express true feelings. Stock words and phrases allow people to spend time together and share a conversation without really revealing themselves. They're a form of small talk, a way to make a connection without risking real intimacy.

One of my pet peeves is the casual use of profanity. Most of us have rather dull days at work and spend our evenings in front of the TV. We rarely have anything interesting to say. But if we dress up the dross with shocking words, it sounds more meaningful. I don't object to strong language when the situation warrants. I can use some choice words if I'm truly angry or when I'm really in pain. But how can a person signal real emotion when every third word of their daily discourse is an F-bomb?

The appropriate use of filler words, stock phrases, and profanity is a topic for serious consideration by an author. It's a matter of balance. The dialogue in our stories has to feel natural to draw the reader in. We have to use some filler words and casual profanity to capture a particular character's voice. But not so much as to annoy the reader. Too much boring, repetitive, or objectionable stuff will drive the reader away.

If I were to write dialogue from my real life, it would be a horrible mishmash. I often catch myself saying something that would make me cringe if I saw it in print. I have a tendency to speak half a thought and leave it hanging because the conclusion is obvious (to me). Or I'll feel unsatisfied about what I've said and start over, rephrasing the whole thing from the beginning. I'm sure my audience really appreciates hearing it twice! I thank God that I have the time to review and edit these blog entries before you read them. And you should too.
September 6, 2023 at 2:47pm
September 6, 2023 at 2:47pm

Trigger Warning: This post contains math.

Reality is a harsh mistress and for interstellar travel, physics is a bitch. It takes light, which weighs almost nothing, more than four years to travel from our solar system to Alpha Centauri. How long would it take for even a very small spaceship?

Let's assume the ship has a mass of 15,000 kilograms (33,000 lbs.), about the same mass as a large motorhome. We'll limit acceleration to 1G (9.8m/sec2) for passenger comfort, and top speed to 0.8C because the energy required for acceleration goes up exponentially as we approach light speed. With this mass and acceleration, the trip would take 6 years each way. So, how much thrust would we need and how much fuel?

The thrust calculation is fairly simple, Force = mass x acceleration.

15,000 kg x 9.8m/sec2 = 147,000 Newton (323,400 lb).

The problem is that we need to apply that thrust for approximately six months to accelerate and another six months to decelerate (in between, we'll coast for five years at 0.8C). And that's only one way. We also have to carry enough fuel to do it again on the return trip.

The fuel requirement is much more difficult to compute, but for simplicity, let's consider the Saturn V rocket that took Apollo 11 to the moon. It had three stages. Stage 1 held 2.1 million kg of fuel and provided 34,500 kilonewtons of thrust for 168 seconds. Stage 2 held 440,000 kg of fuel and provided 4900 kN of thrust for 6 minutes. Stage 3 held 110,000 kg of fuel and provided 890 kN of thrust for 8 minutes. The total fuel carried was 2.65 million kg and it provided a burn time of about 17 minutes.

If we assume that the Saturn V engines could be 'throttled back', then all three stages could provide 147,000 Newtons of thrust for about 880 minutes. So, one Saturn V booster would last only 14.7 hours. For two six-month burns, we'd need the equivalent of 924 of them to reach Alpha Centauri. And another 924 to get back to Earth. And even that very rough estimate is outrageously optimistic, because we have to accelerate all those billions of kilograms of fuel in addition to our 15,000 kg spaceship.

It's simply not possible to carry enough fuel to accelerate to near light speed with a conventional rocket booster. So, carrying fuel seems to be a non-starter for an interstellar mission. But what about an external push?

In my story Project Hermes  I propose using a solar sail to accelerate a tiny ship with a beam of sunlight. This light pressure is real, but it's not very strong (you can buy a radiometer on Amazon that demonstrates the effect). In the story I've imagined a solar boost satellite orbiting near the sun that amplifies the solar flux by a factor of a million. So, what would this concept look like?

The Solar 1 Boost Satellite in operation

We still need a thrust of 147,000 newtons to accelerate our 15,000 kg spaceship at 1G. And the solar flux near the sun can provide a push of 0.00008 newton per square meter. Multiplied by a million, the solar boost beam would provide a thrust of 80 N/m2. So, our sail would need a surface area of 1840 square meters to produce 147,000 N of thrust. A round sail 48 meters in diameter would do the job nicely.

Is it possible to build such a boost satellite near the sun? Could our spaceship actually 'balance' on the end of the beam for six months? I don't know those answers, but the concept seems more feasible than carrying billions of kg of rocket fuel.

Of course, there's still the question of deceleration at Alpha Centauri and then the return trip to Earth. How does our spaceship accomplish that with very little fuel on board?

My solution in the story is to not slow down at all. I have the ship do a gravity slingshot maneuver and retrace its path toward Earth. As it approaches our solar system again, it's decelerated by the same solar boost beam.

Is such a maneuver possible? Is it worth it to make a 12-year trip for a 15-minute pass through the Alpha Centauri system? I don't know, but again, it seems more feasible than an impossibly huge rocket.

August 29, 2023 at 3:03pm
August 29, 2023 at 3:03pm

"What's your sign?" was a common pickup line back in the disco era. Many a hot babe would choose her dance partner based on the supposed compatibility of their signs. A really smooth operator knew what sign to claim for himself to pique her interest.

Astrology is less popular today, but it's still widely followed. Newspapers still print them. And even though newspapers are going the way of disco, there are thousands (millions?) of web sites to choose from. Even the venerable and respected Washington Post has a daily horoscope section in their online edition. I rarely look at it, and I don't put much stock in the predictions, but I do know my sign.

I'm a Gemini.

Or am I?

I don't know who wrote out the first astrological tables and defined the 'characteristics' of the signs, or by what authority they did so. There must have been a time when someone first charged a fee for providing celestial guidance. I do know that the signs are based on the constellations of the zodiac. And the zodiac is the belt-shaped backdrop that the sun moves through during a solar year (as viewed from Earth). The moon and the planets also appear to travel around the zodiac.

The stars that make up each constellation may appear to be in a two-dimensional grouping when viewed from earth, but they are actually separated by vast distances in the 3-D universe. Those pictures we see in the sky are totally dependent on our personal perspective. So the shape of the constellations can change over time as our solar system makes its way through the cosmos.

The astrological signs are also linked to calendar dates, but calendars were notoriously inaccurate for many thousands of years. In western culture, we use a modified version of the calendar from ancient Rome. That moon-based calendar wasn't a good match for the solar year. So, the Julian reform had to make the year 46 BC 445 days long to get their calendar back in sync with the spring equinox. Imagine how long it must have seemed to wait for New Years Eve!

The Julian calendar was better, but still not perfect. In 1582, the Gregorian reform dropped ten days out of the calendar to sync things up again. October 5th was followed by October 15th. Some countries resisted the change and waited until things got even worse. Britain had to drop twelve days from their calendar in 1752. It's really weird to realize that the date in Europe depended on where you lived for almost 200 years.

My point is that even ten days difference in the calendar would make me a Taurus instead of a Gemini. It's all too confusing and arbitrary for me. I'll just go with the Chinese year of the Rooster. I learned that I'm a Rooster from the paper place mat in a Chinese restaurant. Now there's a system that actually makes sense!
August 24, 2023 at 2:47pm
August 24, 2023 at 2:47pm

I recently read an article about data backup that described the 3 - 2 - 1 system. Three copies on at least 2 different media with at least one copy off-site. It sounds like a lot of effort, but it assures that your work will survive any disaster. And with wildfires constantly in the news, it seems frighteningly possible that your computer, your backup drive, and your printed copies could go up in smoke with little or no warning.

So, what to do? Multiple copies and different media are fairly easy, I alternate data backups between an external HDD and an SD card. All I back up are my data files, so a lot will fit on even a 32Gb SD card. And I print out my finished work from time to time as a third copy. My WDC portfolio qualifies both as a third copy and as off-site storage. Cloud storage would serve the same purpose.

At WDC, I have a couple of hundred finished pieces and a book with numerous entries that are set to private. Those entries contain odd ideas, poem fragments, partial stories to be completed 'later', and various things that are actively in-work. My book doesn't back up everything, but it has most of the important stuff.

August 21, 2023 at 12:11pm
August 21, 2023 at 12:11pm

Lilli Munster 🧿 ☕ raised the subject of potatoes in her forum today: Question of the Day! 

I won't try to choose one recipe or even a specific type of potato to call a favorite. For me, the potato is simply a fact of life: always present, always welcome, and never disappointing. Some people have potatoes every day. I have potatoes with every meal. It's rare for me to sit down to eat without some form of potato on my plate. Hash browns, french fries, streak fries, jo-jos, tater-tots, chips, mashed, boiled, roasted, scalloped, baked, twice-baked, and of course there's my wife's excellent potato salad. I even have potato pancakes for breakfast at our local diner. You could say that potatoes are in my blood. They're certainly well-established around my middle. If we are what we eat, then just call me spuds.

When I was a child, my family grew our own. We had a half-acre garden and half of that was potato patch. In the spring, I would cut last year's left-over potatoes into wedges and plant them with their 'eyes' pointing up. I'd weed them and 'hill' them up in the summer. Mom would pay me fifty cents to gather a pint jar full of potato bugs and then drown the nasty little buggers. When the vines succumbed to Autumn's frost, I'd dig potatoes for days and haul them to the root cellar. There were wooden cribs along the back wall where the potatoes would keep until next spring. And the cycle would repeat. And the cycle would repeat.

August 4, 2023 at 1:25pm
August 4, 2023 at 1:25pm

Deb and I had breakfast with friends yesterday and we reminisced about things that used to be considered normal, but would freak people out today, like playing with mercury. I remember quite clearly that there was a small bottle of mercury on a shelf at my grandmother’s house. I think it was ‘liberated’ by one of my uncles when he worked in the underground copper mines in Butte, Montana. The thick glass bottle was rectangular rather than round, and it had a wire bail cap that kept the mercury safely sealed inside. The label was long gone so I don’t know if was originally used for liquor, patent medicine, or perhaps that was just the way mercury was packaged back then. The bottle looked old-fashioned to me even in 1967.

Liquid mercury is a fascinating thing for a ten-year-old, bright silver and mysteriously viscous as it flows back and forth. The most startling thing, though, is its weight. I don’t think that bottle contained more than six or eight fluid ounces, but it hefted like a five-pound sack of sugar. My uncle would smile when one of us kids would fail to pick it up on the first try. A really small kid might have to use both hands. And such a treasure was too difficult to resist, so I took a cue from my uncle and ‘borrowed’ a spoonful to show it to my fifth-grade friends.

Everyone was as impressed as I’d hoped, but my bottle wasn’t as secure as the one at grandma’s house. The mercury ‘escaped’ one afternoon as it was being passed around on the school bus. Soon, there were little beads of bright silver rolling up and down the grooves of the rubber mat in the aisle. Every time the bus slowed or went downhill, the beads rolled forward. They rolled back again with acceleration or an uphill climb. We all giggled hysterically for the rest of the trip that day. I couldn’t say anything to the bus driver, of course, and I’ve sometimes wondered if he ever figured out what was going on. Maybe he didn’t even notice, mercury is quite volatile, so it would have evaporated by the next morning. The only real evidence was the unseen damage to our bodies from the toxic mercury vapor.

Several years later, I learned out about the danger of mercury fumes when our high school science teacher decided to make a barometer from thin glass tubing and liquid mercury. He used a Bunsen burner to soften the glass tubing and bend it into a J shape. Then he put a dollop of mercury inside and closed off the short end by melting it with the Bunsen burner. The end result is an air bubble trapped in the short side of the J-tube that changes in volume depending on the outside air pressure in the long side. The level of the mercury in the short side can then be used as a barometric pressure gauge.

It took Mr. Foulis a number of tries to perfect his technique and he spilled mercury onto the lab bench once or twice as he worked. Heat from the Bunsen burner only exacerbated his exposure to the mercury vapor. By the time he developed a cough, nausea, and bleeding gums, it was already too late to take precautions. The cumulative effect of breathing toxic fumes over a span of several days landed him in the hospital. Fortunately, he recovered and returned to school a few weeks later with a truly convincing lesson about the dangers of mercury poisoning and the need for lab safety gear.

Today, this story reminds me of the woke movement. I'd certainly feel less guilty about exposing my classmates to toxic mercury if I'd never found out about the danger. On the other hand, awareness of the problem is the first step in protecting future kids from being poisoned. And systemic racism is like toxic mercury, the damage isn't obvious until it's already too late. It builds up in the very bones of our society until injustice is accepted as the norm. Treating the symptoms can take many years. Woke is just the first step in preventing damage to future generations.
July 29, 2023 at 3:08pm
July 29, 2023 at 3:08pm
Reposted from Real Fake News:

Hunter Biden polling even with Trump after guilty plea
         by staff reporter Lars N. Ness

         “Why, he’s really just one of us,” gushed Vera Semple of Waco, Texas. The heavily armed home-maker told RFN that she and her husband Bubba ‘always cheat on our taxes’. Neighbor Buck Ward added that scoffing at gun laws has been a long-term hobby and he, for one, is 'delighted’ that the president’s son has similar interests.
          Several right-wing PACs have asked the notorious Biden heir if he would consider entering the 2024 primary against proven loser Donald Trump. “We need someone with real convictions to lead us into the future,” commented party chair Ronna McDaniel. “The failed, one-term, ex-president may not be sentenced in time for the primaries, and thanks to our never ending witch hunt, Hunter has even better name recognition.”
          “He’s fully qualified to run as a republican,” agreed House Oversight Chair James Comer, but committee member Jim Jordan expressed reservations. “I want to know more about his preferred positions before I get behind him,” said the representative from Ohio.
July 22, 2023 at 6:32pm
July 22, 2023 at 6:32pm
Hollywood really loves crappy sequels, so here are some more Trump biopic ideas . . .

Do the Wrong Thing

An exasperating story about a man without grace or charm who always ignores advice of counsel and does things his way. Watch in disgust as he doubles down on every failure but is never held accountable. Feel the suspense build as you wonder whether he'll ever repay a loan or keep a promise. From bad son to bad student to bad husband, from cheap ties to bankrupt casinos to tax fraud, from bad candidate to bad president to bad insurgent, everything this guy touches turns to crap. Is your stomach strong enough to stay for the end?

Right by Far Right

A perilous and thrilling scramble that leads the nation ever further from the safety of moderation. Watch in terror as decency disappears in the rearview mirror. See patriotism self-destruct in a me-first whirl. How long can lemmings with guns teeter on the brink of disaster? How low will they go before hitting bottom? Can anything be rescued from the wreckage of democracy? Like an oversize granite nose, it's the must-pick thriller of the year!

An Embarrassment of Snitches

An epic saga with a cast of thousands, it's the true story of an endless array of flunkies who compete for immunity and the chance to dish dirt on the dirty dealer. Watch in horror as filthy rats stampede from a sinking ship! See the maniacal mob boss throw the stragglers overboard! Shake your head in disbelief as loyal allies commit political suicide! Cringe as the venal and treasonous details come to light! If there's one show this year to make you retch, this is it.

It's a Wonderful Lie

An amoral and incompetent businessman reflects on a life of petty scams and bankruptcies. He contemplates jumping into politics but isn't sure he has the right-wing stuff. A junior imp, hoping to earn his horns, shows the man a vision of how much better the nation would be without him. The imp urges the ambitious and arrogant sociopath to forget the greater good and consider only 'what's in it for me?' He also begs for the businessman's help, explaining that every time a politician lies, a demon gets his horns. With his ego hyper-inflated by satanic flattery, the failed businessman takes the leap and unleashes millions of base and deplorable demons.

See also: "Trump Biopics
July 22, 2023 at 1:08pm
July 22, 2023 at 1:08pm
FOX News special feature:

 Headlines from History

A retrospective of our coverage of the greatest hoaxes of all time

1313 BCE:

Don't be alarmed by reports of so-called 'plagues'. Pharoah has everything under control and all will be well. Go about your normal business and just ignore the exodus crisis actors. This pitiful bunch of illegals will never amount to anything serious.

475 CE:

Don't be alarmed by reports of a so-called 'fall'. Caesar has everything under control and all will be well. Go about your normal business and just ignore the Visigoth crisis actors. These are just normal fluctuations in crime statistics. You are definitely not being sacked or pillaged.

1350 CE:

Don't be alarmed by reports of the so-called 'black death'. This is just a statistical blip in the health data. There is no need to panic and certainly no need for better sanitation, quarantines, or medical research. Go about your normal business and just ignore the crisis actors who are rotting in the streets.

2023 CE:

Don't be alarmed by reports of so-called 'climate change'. MAGA scientists have done their own research and we can assure you that these are merely normal temperature fluctuations. Go about your normal business and ignore the crisis actors dying of heatstroke. You are definitely not experiencing droughts, floods, fires, tornados, hurricanes, or any other extreme weather patterns.

July 19, 2023 at 1:56pm
July 19, 2023 at 1:56pm

A couple of weeks ago, I posted some opinions about the English language translation of the Christian Bible.

"Bible Readings

My main theme was that we should focus on the meaning of the scripture rather than the specific words. And when it comes to meaning, a translation is just as good, right?

Well, mostly. Translation is art as well as science. That's why the beauty of the language in the King James Bible is still admired today. But sometimes the words of language A don't translate directly into the words available in language B. I came across a significant example of this while attending a bible study class.

Consider this passage from the Gospel of John (21:15-19)

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord; you know everything, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

This is an example of the translator being unable (or unwilling) to make an exact translation. Modern English has only a single word for love, but ancient Greek has several. Agape is the highest, purest, most divine form of love, phileo is a brotherly love, and eros is a physical love. In the Greek source of the verses above, Jesus first asks Peter “agapas me?” and Peter answers “philo se.” Jesus asks a second time “agapas me?” and again, Peter answers “philo se. The third time Jesus asks “philos me?” and then accepts Peter’s reply of “philo se.”

The English language translation gives the impression that Peter simply responds 'yes' three times. The Greek verses show that Peter actually says no to the original request. There are other reasons why Jesus asks this question three times, but the distinction between the forms of love is lost in the English translation. When Jesus asks Peter to love as God loves, Peter offers to love as a brother loves. In my opinion, Peter is protesting that he's merely human and isn't capable of loving as God loves. I believe Jesus challenges Peter to be more, but in the end, he accepts Peter as he is. Just as God understands and accepts each of us.

Some may feel that these translation choices aren't really important. After all, this scene is considered to be the founding of the Christian Church. The verses establish Peter's authority over the church, and they form the basis for the authority of the Pope. But I think John chose his words very carefully. I think he has a good reason for providing this distinction between agape and phileo. I believe it's cautionary, a reminder that the church is made up of brothers, not Gods, and that even the Pope is merely human.

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